Questions & Answers about the Guide to Greener Electronics

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Page - November 9, 2011
Greenpeace’s Guide to Greener Electronics aims to reducing the environmental impact of the electronics sector, its energy use and emissions throughout its supply chain and avoiding the use of unsustainable materials. The Guide also pushes companies to use their influence in support of stronger environmental legislation.

1. What are the goals of the Guide?

In November 2011 the criteria of the Guide where updated to reflect progress within the industry since 2006 and to set a new challenge for the industry to become more sustainable across company operations and supply chains. The goals of the Guide are to get companies to:

  • Set ambition goals for Greenhouse Gas reductions (GHG) and have a strong strategy to use up to 100 percent renewable power by 2020
  • Produce efficient, long lasting products free from hazardous substances
  • Focus on sustainable practices across the global electronics supply chain

2. What is the rationale behind the Guide?

The electronics sector and major consumer electronics companies are highly innovative but also highly competitive. By publicly comparing a company’s relative performance best practice is encouraged among competing companies and provide their customers an independent assessment of their performance on the most important environmental challenges facing the industry.

3. Which are the criteria that Greenpeace bases the ranking on?

Criteria on Energy and Climate

The criteria that companies will be evaluated on are:

  1. Disclosure of Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions
  2. Commitment to reduce the company’s own short term and long term GHG emissions
  3. A Clean Energy Plan, which includes increasing use of Renewable Energy (RE) and
  4. energy efficiency measures to implement cuts in GHGs
  5. Advocacy for a Clean Energy Policy at national and sub-national level

Criteria on Greener Products

These criteria focus on the environmental performance of consumer electronics, across a number of different issues.

  1. Energy efficiency of new models of specified products
  2. Products free from hazardous substances
  3. Use of recycled plastics in products
  4. Product life cycle

Criteria on Sustainable Operations

These criteria examine how companies implement environmental considerations during manufacture in their supply chain through to the end-of-life phase of a product

  1. Reduction of GHG emissions from energy use by suppliers
  2. Policy, practice and advocacy on chemicals management
  3. Policy and practice on sustainable sourcing of fibres for paper
  4. Policy and practice on avoidance of conflict minerals
  5. Producer responsibility for voluntary take-back of e-waste

Maximum points

Depending on the complexity of the criteria and the focus of Greenpeace campaigns, the maximum points awarded per criteria vary between 3, 5 and 8 points.

Company scores

Companies have the opportunity to improve their score, as the Guide will be periodically updated. However, penalty points will be deducted from overall scores if Greenpeace finds a company lying, practicing double standards or regressive advocacy, and other corporate misconduct.

4. How come the scores are lower in this version of the Guide compared to earlier versions?

As with the first version of the Guide in 2006, and after the last major revision of Guide criteria in Nov 2007, company scores are often lower due to new requirements to disclose information and performance metrics that a company may not have been providing publicly before, or in a way that does not allow comparison with the performance of other companies. As with subsequent versions in 2006 and 2007 we fully expect most scores to increase in subsequent versions.

5. Why has the company line up changed in this version?

Greenpeace uses the latest industry sales figures of global market share for the past year (in this case 2010) in the mobile phone, PC and TV markets to determine the companies selected for the Guide.

6. Why are Nintendo, Motorola, Fujitsu and Microsoft no longer included?

Due to a limited product portfolio Microsoft and Nintendo have been removed from the Guide. We will continue to monitor if there are any significant green developments from console manufactures. Motorola and Fujitsu have been removed because of reductions in their global market share. Microsoft will now only be assessed in the Cool IT Leaderboard due out in 2012.

7. What is the biggest change the Guide has driven among the consumer electronics companies and what effect has this change had on the environment?

Since the Guide was launched in August 06 it (together with increased coverage and awareness of toxics in electronics and e-waste) has driven numerous improvements.

Many companies are thus removing the worst toxic chemicals from their products and improving their recycling schemes. This demonstrates that many of the companies ranked in the Guide not only take the results very seriously but also take action to improve their performance and of course ranking.

8. Why is the ranking only based on public information?

Greenpeace only assesses companies based on their public information and practice to ensure the ranking is transparent. Companies can be held publicly accountable when they do make commitments. Also making changes public helps drive competition between the companies. The only criterion where nonpublic information is accepted is on advocacy where a company may have a clear position to relevant decision makers but does not make this public.

9. Some companies have criticized the Guide for rewarding promised not action, is this true?

The new criteria from November 2011 put a priority on assessing company action. However near and mid-term targets for many of the criteria, such as emissions reduction, renewable energy use and toxics elimination, are important to indicate the future business plans and priorities of companies in the Guide.

10. How do you ensure companies match commitments with action?

As the Guide ranks company policy and practice, it is vital to check if what a company states is actual happening. Greenpeace uses chemical testing of products, reports from industry observers, media reports and testing of consumer programs like take back to check if company practice actually matches stated policy.

Greenpeace uses penalty points where we discover actual actions in contradiction of company policy. When we deduct penalty points, we explain clearly why.

11. Why do you not suggest alternatives to toxic chemicals?

Alternatives are available for many hazardous chemicals used in electronics - otherwise progressive companies would not have been able to replace lead solder, brominated flame retardants (BFR), and Polyvinyl chloride (PVC). Often, hazardous chemicals are not replaced by other chemical additives, but by inherently safer materials that don't need such additives. For example, many manufactures are replacing plastic casing containing BFRs with metal casings that don't need BFRs.

Greenpeace supports the development of less hazardous alternatives through technical dialogue with companies and governments, including contribution to the US EPA's evaluation of alternatives to brominated resins for circuit boards. Ultimately, however, it is for companies themselves, who have large R&D budgets and specific expertise, to develop those alternatives and ensure they are properly evaluated.

12. How do you engage with companies in the Guide?

All companies received the Guide criteria at the start of July 2011 and were given the opportunity to provide feedback. The final version of the criteria was sent to all companies at the start of August 2011 and companies where requested to submit information for scoring during September 2011. Greenpeace corresponds with any company that requests additional information or has questions and where company information may be unclear. Greenpeace seeks clarification from the companies concerned in advance of each Guide.

13. Why not just rank companies on energy efficiency of products?

Product energy efficiency is just part of the carbon footprint of an electronic product. The supply chain, shipping and distribution can all lead to significant greenhouse gas emissions before a product is used. This is why companies that have assessed the greenhouse gas emissions generated by the company and have a plan to significantly reduce these emissions will score well.

14. Why is 100 percent renewable energy use by 2020 important?

A massive uptake in renewable energy is needed to achieve the level of greenhouse gas emissions reductions required to tackle climate change. The Greenpeace Energy Revolution outlines how most of the world’s electricity can be supplied by renewable energy in 2050. Greenpeace is challenging all electronic companies to set ambitious goals to run their companies on renewable energy by 2020. This would allow companies to grow while reducing their emissions.

15. What exactly is a Clean Electricity Plan?

It evaluates the company’s implementation plan for achieving its greenhouse gas commitments through energy efficiency and renewable energy investment and deployment. Full points go to companies with proof of a comprehensive clean energy plan, with a goal and strategy to reach 100 percent of their own operations electricity demand through the use of renewable energy.

16. What is company advocacy and why is it important?

Companies in the electronics sector can drive fast progress towards a clean energy economy by aligning their policy advocacy with scientifically established greenhouse gas reduction targets, along with renewable energy and energy efficiency mandates and incentives. The implementation of greenhouse gas savings will require policy support and financing mechanisms, and IT companies must apply their considerable political influence towards achieving these conditions.

17. Why are labor and worker health criteria not included?

The Guide does not rank companies on labor standards, social responsibility or any other issues, but recognizes that these are important in the production and use of electronic products.

18. How does this Guide differ from other assessments, such as the EPEAT tool and the Good Guide?

The Guide scores overall company policy and its entire consumer products range to produce the overall company score. It does not rate specific products from individual companies compared to each other. Both the EPEAT tool and the Good Guide are product based assessments for individual products.

19. Can I use this as a shopping Guide?

While you cannot use it as product guide to find, for example, the greenest mobile phone, it does allow you to compare the company wide policy and practice of all leading mobile phone makers. You can also use the Guide to ask questions about the environmental attributes of electronics products when shopping for electronics.

20. When will there be a new version?

The Guide was published quarterly from 2006-2010 representing the rapid changes in company performance. The next version of the Guide will be published in the second half of 2012.